Chow Bella

Whole-Roasted Pigs Cooked in La Caja China: Saturdays at Café Bink, Sundays at The Mission

You may be completely over bacon (it's certainly fashionable to say so), but if you're any kind of pork-lover at all, it's pretty hard not to get excited about whole roasted pig. With its crispy skin and falling-apart meat -- ultra-flavorful for being cooked on the bone with all the fat -- it's fabulous stuff.

Two local chefs have discovered that by using La Caja China (a metal roasting box in a wood frame with wheels), which cooks a whole pig in four hours (give or take), they can serve it at their restaurants every single week. Be still, my beating heart.

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Chef Matt Carter has been serving whole roasted pig at The Mission every Sunday for the past four years. By next weekend, Kevin Binkley will be offering whole roasted pig on Saturday afternoons and evenings at Café Bink.

Here are the details, plus more info on La Caja China.

The Mission's Pig Out is a $16 all-you-can-eat situation, offered every Sunday starting at 11 a.m. and lasting until the meat runs out. Roasted under pecan and mesquite wood in La Caja China overnight, the pork is presented two ways -- carnitas and pulled pork -- served with house-made corn tortillas, house-made salsas (including pineapple glaze, apple, avocado-serrano and banana-habanero) and garnishes of grilled pineapple, chopped red onion, cotija cheese, fresh lime and cilantro.

Starting Saturday, November 3, Café Bink's Pig on the Patio will also be an all-you-can-eat pig dinner, priced somewhere between $16-$18 per person. This time, however, the menu is All-American, not Latin-American, featuring house-made slider buns, baked beans and cole slaw, North Carolina-style (vinegar-based) barbecue sauce and Texas-style (tomato-based) barbecue sauce. Like The Mission, Bink will serve pig 'til the pig runs out. Any leftover pork will show up on the regular menu (think BBQ pork sandwiches and green chile pork appetizer) the following day. Binkley expects the pig to be ready around 1 or 2 p.m on Saturday afternoon. Call the restaurant at 480-488-9796 for more details.

By the way, both restaurants use the box for catering gigs. So if you've got a party coming up, be the first kid on your block to serve Caja China-cooked pig.

La Caja China was invented by Roberto Guerra after Guerra's father told him about seeing a wooden box, used to cook whole pigs, in Cuba's Chinatown. Although the exact origins of the box are unknown, some speculate that it was created by Chinese workers brought to Cuba to work in the sugar fields in the 1800's. Or as Binkley's chef de cuisine Brandon Gauthier puts it: "It's a Chinese technique that the Cubans picked up on and perfected." In any case, Guerra created his own and began selling them in 1987 -- mostly to customers in South Florida who were familiar with Cuban cooking techniques. When the New York Times ran a piece on the box in 2004, Guerra's business took off, and now, at last, La Caja China has found its way to two restaurants in Phoenix.

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Nikki Buchanan